Time to Talk Day takes place on February 3 and marks the nation’s biggest mental health conversation. It’s the day that families, communities and workplaces come together to talk, listen and change lives.
This comes as research from the Office for National Statistics revealed how one in six adults experienced some form of depression in 2021, compared to one in ten before the pandemic. In addition, much has been said about how the long-term effects of poor mental health are likely to be far-reaching.
Prior to the pandemic, many companies had increased their focus on workplace mental health and it’s even more imperative that these efforts are readdressed today, rather than be allowed to fall by the wayside.
At MERJE, we believe that engaging in this narrative is more important than ever, particularly as offices increasingly reopen and employees return to physical workplaces following months of working from home.
This is because, as we navigate various workplace transitions over the coming months, employers are likely to see employees battle the signs of anxiety, depression, and burnout. These mental health experiences will differ according to race, economic status, job type, parenting responsibilities, alongside other factors.
However, the outlook is promising as there are plenty of ways in which businesses can provide mental health support to their employees as they face health and safety concerns and economic uncertainty over the coming months.
Remove the stigma
Without doubt, it appears that the majority of people have experienced some sort of mental health challenge or felt out of their comfort zone as a direct result of the pandemic. However, these collective feelings should help to remove the stigma, especially when it comes to opening up and sharing how we feel.
As an employer, sharing any mental health struggles you might have had will make you seem more human and give your team the confidence to open up and talk to you about their own challenges.
An authentic approach to leadership can build awareness, cultivate trust and improve employee engagement and performance. It also means that any issues which might affect the workplace culture can be addressed and resolved sooner rather than later and before they culminate in a more serious problem.
Encourage healthy habits
Go above and beyond saying you support mental health by devising a formal framework and giving employees access to toolkits which contain the advice they need if they’re struggling. Often, workers will be so set on meeting their individual and team goals that they’ll forget to look after themselves, which is why you should encourage and promote self-care. This might mean taking a walk and screen break in the middle of the day, having a therapy session, turning off emails or prioritising annual leave for a mental reset.
Check in regularly
It’s important to take the time to check in with your employees on a regular basis so that you can ascertain how they’re feeling and whether they’re coping with their workload. Try going beyond topline pleasantries and dig a little deeper. This includes asking specific questions about the type of support which might prove helpful. Listen carefully to your employees’ responses and encourage them to air their concerns so that they may be appropriately addressed.
On the flipside, avoid coming across as overbearing as this might be deemed oppressive and indicate a lack of trust or desire to micromanage. Instead, try to create a safe space for workers to share their true feelings and be compassionate and responsive to their needs and then instigate a plan of action. It might be that they aren't in the mood for sharing, but it’s good for their mental health to know that help is there if they need it.
As people became accustomed to working from home, the desire for flexible working and establishing a good work/life balance grew. This trend is expected to continue so that people can juggle their personal and professional lives, such as managing childcare, with as little stress as possible.
Bearing this in mind, it would be short-sighted of employers not to offer this working model on a permanent basis, in order to let their employees ascertain what works best for them and their mental health. It might be that they come into the office a set number of days per week or that they work from home almost exclusively with regular video conferencing in order to catch up with their teammates. Whatever the case, this is something you should be supportive of and offer proactively.
The important thing is to keep abreast of what is happening across your workforce so that you can resolve any issues as and when they arise. This also provides an opportunity to reiterate norms and practices that support mental health, while helping people to design and preserve the boundaries they need.
Above all, try to bear in mind that being accommodating doesn’t always equate to lowering your standards. Flexibility can help your team thrive amid continued uncertainty, all while establishing trust and understanding.
Open up the lines of communication
Keep peoples’ minds at ease by keeping your team informed about any organisational or structural changes and updates. Clarify any modified work hours and remove stress, where possible, by setting clear expectations about workloads, prioritising what must get done and acknowledging what can be postponed if necessary.
Ensure that your employees know which mental health resources are available and encourage them to use them. Resharing them if you need to can be effective, as this will help to drive home the message. Also be aware that shame and stigma prevent many employees from using their mental health benefits to seek treatment, so normalise the use of those services.
Offer training and development pathways
You should consider offering mental health training for leaders and managers to create a culture of acceptance and understanding. It will also help you to navigate any employee uncertainties and build the skills necessary to have productive conversations around the topic of mental health at work.
In addition, many people will have felt that they’re skill-set is in need of a refresh following months of working remotely. Offering ways for people to advance their career pathways in general will help to boost morale and increase employee engagement. Ask your workers what they want, listen to their feedback and provide the required resources where possible.
Update policies and practices
Being generous and updating traditional or outmoded policies is a great way of putting people at ease in the workplace. It could be that you need to take a look at your rules around flexible hours, paid and unpaid leave or out-of-hours emails.
Try to reposition appraisals as opportunities for compassionate feedback and learning instead of evaluations against stringent commercial targets. When you make those changes, communicate with everyone that you’re doing so to support the mental health of your employees.
The take away...
Ultimately, what cannot be avoided is the fact that we’re moving into a new working era which isn't likely to revert to exactly how it was pre-Covid. This is why now marks an exciting time to forge ahead to create workplace cultures which support good mental health for all.
To discuss this or any of the topics covered in our articles, please get in touch.